Like Caesar’s Gaul, the first night of the Republicans’ Convention was divided into three parts: the Diversity Hour, the Caring Wife, and the Chris Christie Anti-Climax.
Much of the art of the convention these days is devoted to convincing viewers that we—the elected officials and their spouses at the podium—are just like you. At Republican conventions, this means assuring racial minorities that, although they may not see people who look like them when the cameras pan the hall, there are actually black and Latino Republicans—especially Latino, since the Republicans don’t really expect to pick up more than a handful of black votes anyway. But it also means assuring working- and middle-class voters that, notwithstanding party tax policies that hugely favor the very rich, there are actually very rich Republicans who can remember times in their lives when they or their parents or, if needs be, their grandparents, lived almost like ordinary people. Rick Santorum and Ann Romney told us that their grandfathers were miners. Chris Christie assured us that his mom was one mean working-class Sicilian.
The Financial Times is reporting that the Republican platform to be unveiled in Tampa next week calls for establishing a commission to examine whether the United States should go back on the gold standard. The theory behind this antiquarian fantasy, much loved by Ron Paul and his cult, is that by de-linking the dollar from the value of gold—a move begun by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and completed by President Richard Nixon in 1971—America’s leaders have debased our currency and loosed the genies of inflation, since the Federal Reserve can print as many dollars as it likes.
Another day, another survey charting the decline of the American middle class. Yesterday, the Pew Research Center weighed in with “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class,” to which they appended the kicker, “Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier.”
The custom, I know, is not to speak ill of the recently dead, but it’s not a custom to which I’ve invariably adhered. Ronald Reagan’s death evoked so many hagiographic tributes I felt compelled to write a Washington Post column noting the damage he’d done to his country and to the liberal values that, when honored, made his country great.
Tiny Sandford was a very big guy (6’5”, around 300 pounds) who played small parts in 1920s and '30s comedies—Laurel and Hardy’s in particular. Perhaps his best known role is that of the cop in the Laurel and Hardy classic Big Business, a brilliant comedy supervised by Leo McCarey, who was later to direct the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup and other notable films.
This past weekend, American journalism commemorated the 100th birthday of one the nation’s greatest songwriters, Woody Guthrie. Many of the articles noted that Guthrie’s universally known national counter-anthem, “This Land is Your Land,” was written as a rebuttal of sorts to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” America had too much squalor, too much disparity of wealth, Guthrie believed, to be thought of as blessed, and his song includes a seldom-sung verse identifying “private property” as the culprit.
What’s far less known is that Guthrie was the second songwriter to have a critical take on “God Bless America.” The first, Harry Ruby, actually delayed its release for 20 years.
In 1991, in the early days of his presidential run, then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton would occasionally cite and paraphrase from what was clearly his favorite new book: E.J. Dionne’s Why Americans Hate Politics. The book excoriated any number of politicos, but chiefly Republicans, for posing “false choices” to the American people—as in, you’re either pro-family or pro-government (as if there weren’t a raft of government programs to help families). Clinton wove these ideas into his stump speech, now and then taking care to attribute some of them to E.J.’s book. (E.J. is a close friend, so in this blog, he gets first-name treatment).
The prize for the most abjectly wrong headline in American journalism this week goes, I grieve to say, to the Los Angeles Times. Atop an article analyzing how California cities are coping with horrific budget crunches—which ran one day after the working-class exurb of San Bernardino followed its fellow working-class exurb Stockton into municipal bankruptcy—the headline writer plunked the following line: “Rising costs push California cities to fiscal brink.”
Back in the days when Michael Kinsley was the designated liberal on CNN’s “Crossfire” show, paired off against Pat Buchanan or Robert Novak, he would answer the complaints of actual liberals that he really wasn’t a liberal himself by agreeing with them. Kinsley was and still is a man of the cautious, corporate center, which means liberal on social and cultural issues and an Aspen/Jackson Hole corporate elitist on economics. Which is to say, while he’s a trenchant social critic, he hasn’t even noticed the bankruptcy of mainstream economics.
In early 1990, as the lackluster California governorship of the lackluster George Deukmejian was running down, the two Democratic front-runners to succeed him were Attorney General John Van de Kamp and San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein—in that order. Then, at the state’s annual Democratic Party convention—a body with no nominating power (that was to be decided in a subsequent primary) but nonetheless a yearly gathering for liberal activists—Feinstein included in her speech a ringing, if otherwise gratuitous, endorsement of the death penalty. Predictably, the delegates booed her. Just as predictably, her standing in the polls quickly shot past Van de Kamp’s and she went on to win the Democratic primary (though she lost the general election to Republican Pete Wilson).
Over the past several decades, at any number of public events I’ve attended, I never had trouble knowing when Joyce Miller was in the house. “Harold!” she would boom, her voice a friendly foghorn across a crowded room.
Over the decades, she’d needed that voice to make herself—and the cause of women workers—heard. A founder and, later, the president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Joyce was a longtime official of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, a heavily female union headed by invariably male leaders who eventually made room for very talented secondary-level women leaders such as Joyce. In 1980, even the AFL-CIO executive council made room for Joyce, when she was elected to become its first female member.
When more than a million metro-area Washingtonians lost their power in last Friday’s superheated near-hurricane, and hundreds of thousands of them went three, four, or five sweltering days before it came back on, was Pepco—the local power company—to blame? How about Dominion Virginia Power? Would a municipally owned company have done a better job?
I’m all for having publicly owned utilities, but in this case, I don’t think ownership mattered. When a storm like last Friday’s sweeps through, all that counts is whether the power lines are buried underground or strung from poles. Neighborhoods that had their power lines underground (like mine, in Dupont Circle) didn’t lose power. Neighborhoods that didn’t went dark—unless they were spared by a shift in the winds.
If you don't think Republicans are monomaniacs, may I suggest watching Mitch McConnell's performance on Fox News Sunday. Three times host Chris Wallace asked McConnell what would become of the 30 million Americans who'd be able to obtain health coverage under the Obama administration's newly upheld health-care law if the Republicans repealed the law, and three times McConnell said that such temporal concerns were beside the point. The third time Wallace asked about the 30 million Americans, McConnell responded, "That is not the issue.
I’m not the only one who has noticed that Antonin Scalia has become the Supreme Court’s crazy uncle.
As I wrote here yesterday, Scalia’s dissent in the Court’s Monday ruling striking down most of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law was bizarre beyond belief—arrogating to Arizona a degree of sovereignty in border (and foreign, and military) policy that law and custom restrict to nations. His willingness to let Arizona make its own foreign policy was also in sharp contrast to his refusal to grant Montana the right to put controls on campaign spending in its state elections—a decision he joined on the same day he issued his Arizona dissent.
Hard to say what’s more bizarre about Antonin Scalia’s furious dissent against the Supreme Court’s decision striking down most of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law: his railing at President Barack Obama’s executive order stopping the deportation of immigrants brought here as children (which wasn’t remotely the subject of the case at hand) or his basis for upholding Arizona’s law—that Arizona is a sovereign state with the rights generally claimed by nation-states.
Harold Meyerson is the editor-at-large at The American Prospect and a columnist for The Washington Post. His articles on politics, labor, the economy, foreign policy, and American culture have also appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Nation, The New Statesman; the op-ed, commentary, and book review sections of The New York Times, The Washington Post, andthe Los Angeles Times, and in numerous other publications.